FTC Issues Warning On Oil-Spill Schemers; Be On The Look Out For Insurance, Contracting, Jobs And Charity Scammers

As the attention of the United States and much of the world is riveted on the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, the Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers that schemers will try to take advantage of the environmental disaster to lines their own pockets.

“It’s no secret that scam artists follow the headlines, and the daily news of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is no exception,” the FTC said today. “[I]t’s likely that scammers will use e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, flyers, mailings and telephone calls to make contact and solicit money.

“Some may claim they’re raising money for environmental causes or offer fraudulent services like remediation services related to the oil spill,” the FTC warned. “Others may claim they can expedite loss claims for a fee. Still others may knock on your door and talk about placing booms or checking for oil on your property. Chances are they’re trying to gain your trust to get inside your home or get access to your personal information.”

Many scams cropped up after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the agency said.

Oil-spill-related scams could included solicitations for donations to bogus charities that use “copy-cat names to cash in on the reputations of older, more established charities,” the FTC said.

Use the Better Business Bureau’s website to check out a charity and do other research, the FTC advised.

“Rather than clicking on a link to a purported website, verify the legitimacy of a nonprofit organization by using search engines and other online resources to confirm the group’s existence, history, mission and nonprofit status,” the FTC advised. “To ensure your contributions are received and used for the purposes you intend, contribute directly to organizations you know rather than relying on other people to make a donation on your behalf. If you get pressure to make a contribution, look for another charity. Reputable charities don’t use those kinds of tactics.”

Job-scammers also could surface in the Gulf region or elsewhere, the FTC cautioned.

“Avoid any job or volunteer opportunities that require you to pay a fee before the job begins,” the agency said.

Because of frauds associated with Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government formed the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF).

“The NCDF was originally established by the Department of Justice to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region,” the FTC said. “Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or man-made disaster.”

If you suspect someone is trying to pull off a scam related to the oil spill, the FTC recommends that you contact NCDF by phone at 1-866-720-5721; by email at email: disaster@leo.gov; or by fax at 225-334-4707.

Read the FTC’s full warning.

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